AKWA IBOM 2011: AKPABIO AND HIS CHALLENGER
The race to the Akwa Ibom State government house, popularly called the Hilltop Mansion, promises to be an interesting one. Just when it seemed the race was heading into a no-contest situation, some aspirants have emerged to give the incumbent Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio a run for his money. Hitherto aspirants who were hiding in their closets have come out to stake a claim to the office.
In the contest for the post, the stakes are high. Since creation, Akwa Ibom State has contended with serious developmental challenges until Akpabio mounted the saddle. In 2007, he defeated about 50 aspirants in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primaries to become its flag bearer, and went on to trounce other candidates at the polls. Courtesy of the shuttle diplomacy of the governor, the state now earns more revenue from the federation account. But this has proven to be the nectar that has attracted what would be a fierce contest.
Ironically, Akpabio's biggest challenger, of all the contenders, would be his campaign manager in 2007, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, if he eventually decides to run. Given his antecedents, many Akwa Ibom people think that the man is only stalling, believing that at some point there would be horse-trading and he would be 'settled' out of the race with a promise of another juicy appointment. It is for this reason that Akwa Ibom people have urged Akpabio to call Akpanudoedehe's bluff and allow the man to go on and commit political hara-kiri as this would put paid to his exaggerated political prowess.
It is important to properly situate the support of Akpanudoedehe for Akpabio in the 2007 elections. As recently disclosed by Obong Victor Attah's son-in-law, Dr Udoma Ekarika, the former Senator had initially pitched his camp with Ekarika. It was after Akpabio had picked the ticket of PDP as its gubernatorial candidate that Akpanudoedehe, in a sheer display of political opportunism, jumped ship and went on to become Akpabio's campaign manager, and was rewarded with a ministerial appointment, though his sojourn in the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory as Minister of State, was marred by egoistic war between him and the substantive Minister, Mallam Aliyu Modibo, which led to his ouster from the cabinet. The job of managing Akpabio's campaign in 2007 was one task even a political neophyte would have delivered given the overwhelming support that Akpabio enjoyed across all segments of the state. But today, Akpanudoedehe cites this as his achievement and is often quoted as saying, 'if I had succeeded in making Akpabio Governor, why won't I make myself?' an assertion, only time will tell if it is true.
But it appears that the campaign of Akpanudoedehe is anchored on ethnicity. It would be recalled that just recently, operating under the aegis of 'Concerned Ibibio Leaders,' the gubernatorial aspirant teamed up with Attah, a former military Governor of Ogun state, Group Captain Sam Ewang (rtd), and a former Commissioner in the state, Otuekong Idongesit Udokpo, to issue a statement titled , ''The deteriorating Security Situation in Akwa Ibom State,'' in which they decried the incident of kidnapping in the state and claimed that the Ibibios were the target of kidnapping and armed robbery and fingered the state government as the sponsor of these incidents.
Many have wondered why a man who wants to be the governor of Akwa Ibom State had recoiled into an ethnic shell to fan the embers of ethnic passion. If he succeeds in his inordinate ambition, will Akpanudoedehe make the whole of Akwa Ibom his constituency or will he be the governor of his Ibibio enclave? However, Governor Akpabio has been endorsed by virtually all segments of the state for a second term. In highly emotional and colourful events, the Ibibios, Annangs, Orons, Ekids and others have pledged their desire to return Akpabio to office to serve till 2015.
The ambition of Akpanudoedehe is also a threat to the unity of Akwa Ibom State. In 1999, Attah from Uyo Senatorial district was elected the governor for two terms. Following strong agitation for power shift, Attah had agreed to cede power to Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district, but on the condition that it must be zoned to his son-in-law, Ekarika. It is the failure of Ekarika in the last gubernatorial contest that has made Attah to constitute himself into an opposition to an administration he can claim to be its father.
To reclaim his lost political relevance, Attah, few weeks back publicly endorsed Akpanudoedehe, from Uyo Senatorial zone as him and claimed that power shift to the Annang was a mistake. In his reckoning, a two-term tenure that was good for him is not good for Akpabio. In any case, many have wondered where the people of Eket Senatorial district which completes the tripod of the state stand in this weird political configuration of Attah and Akpanudoedehe.
Perhaps, believing in his ethnicity to see him through, Akpanudoedehe has not told Akwa Ibom people what his agenda is; instead he is dwelling on mundane things that will not add value to the lives of the people. In an interview, he had revealed that the main reason that he broke up with Akpabio was the failure of the governor to provide him with the necessary financial backing to buy the Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company, Oku Iboku.
What he often fails to say is that Attah, who has now become his political soul-mate, was the first to snub his proposal to use state funds for this private venture. Could Attah have realized that the state would have been fleeced if he had acceded to Akpanudoedhe's demand? His other grouse with Akpabio, according to him, was the decision of Akpabio to rename NEPA Line street after another illustrious son of the state and the then reigning world heavyweight boxing champion, Samuel Peters, instead of him.
But the entry of Akpanudoedehe into the gubernatorial race of Akwa Ibom State should be seen as a welcome development because it will present the people with choices. Akwa Ibom people will have the option to choose between contenders and pretenders, ethnic bigots and those who seek to unify the state, political swindlers and those with genuine intentions for development, those who seek governorship to line their pockets and bank accounts and buy up state assets and those who are committed to the well-being of the people; they will chose between those who have life-long career of politics to enrich themselves, who are quick to shout when the patronage ceases and those the people can really trust because of their antecedents.
In this wise, Akpabio has a lot going for him. In 2007, Akpabio had trounced Attah and his son-in-law as he received the overwhelming support of Akwa Ibom people in what was seen as a revolt against an attempt to create a dynasty in the state. If Attah with his power of incumbency and the cash that goes with it, failed to deliver his son-in-law, the people wait to behold the eighth wonder of the world when he would deliver Akpanudoedehe. To maintain the unity of the state and its ethnic balance, the people want Akpabio to complete a second term, just like Attah did.
However, Akpabio should march on triumphantly for a second term not on the basis of his ethnicity but because the people are happy he has delivered on his first term mandate, even though a lot still needs to be done. Courtesy of the Akpabio administration's free and compulsory education policy, Akwa Ibom kids are no longer exported as house helps to major Nigerian cities. Today, no visiting President would discover an 'Udo' who at age 13 could not read and write and adopt him to Aso Rock to receive education.
The massive road projects which cut across the entire state are good testimonials for his second term aspiration. The Ibom International Airport, the new ultra-modern governor's lodge built in a record time of just over one year, the Independent Power Project, the Ibom Tropicana and Entertainment Centre, and many more people-oriented projects would make Akwa Ibom people to once again overwhelmingly return Akpabio to the Hilltop Mansion for a second term.
Ekong is a Lagos based public affairs commentator and the Convener of League of Akwa Ibom Patriots.